Why is science fiction so popular? Are we so curious about the future and what it might hold for us or is it just speculative entertainment?
With the advent of constantly "upped" computer techniques, sci-fi is definitely "in" for summer movies, so technically astounding that plot and characterizations take second place.
But before digital effects were invented, sci-fi was popular back to the '20s, drawing from Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and other writers whose imaginations examined what might happen when the future becomes now.
The earliest - and most memorable - trip into the future was the 1927 German film, "Metropolis," masterminded by the greatest filmmaker of his times, Fritz Lang, with Brigitte Helm, his 17-year-old "find" starring in no less than three roles - Maria (a sweet youth), a metallic robot, and in final transformation an evil, exotic seductress.
"Metropolis" was a hugely influential film, not only for its imaginative futurist settings and designs, but also in its concept, that a society could never operate fully when one group lives the easy life while the other, underground, serves unequally as its slaves. "Star Wars" capitalized on themes from "Metropolis" as did Charles Chaplin in his "Modern Times."
Lang's idea for his future society was derived from a visit to New York and Hollywood, where he was struck by a startling world of skyscrapers, sleek forms of transportation, and the good life of the rich few as opposed to "have nots."
In his film, he offers a solution to the inequality when he reveals that Freder, the son of the controller of the world, experiences an accidental encounter with the underground world, is shocked and with the aid of Maria, a beautiful underground woman, hopes to bring about a change. His father orders a mad scientist (shades of "Dr. Strangelove") to change Maria into a robot, and then into the evil seductress who serves to drive men mad (the transformation scene is awesome - worth the price of admission alone). The results are, of course, disastrous. The great underground machines stop, panic occurs both above and below and just when all seems lost - well, suffice it to know that Lang offers a brilliant solution.
"Metropolis" has risen over the years to the ranks of a masterpiece, still considered a groundbreaking sci-fi classic, but until now, was always shown in tragically truncated form. Now, completely restored with newly found footage and its original soundtrack, it can be seen on Friday the 12th as the Calumet Theatre's August Club Indigo.
For anyone who truly loves movies, seeing this film in its fully restored version is a must. What's more, for anyone who thinks "old" movies are no longer entertaining, this epic will prove otherwise; it is far from disappointing. Audiences experiencing this restored film for the first time are riveted, watching the original story unfold as it did in the '20s in all its magnificent grandeur.
It fits a critic's words: "There's no such thing as old movies, just great classics waiting to be rediscovered." And here's the chance to do it.
Lang's movie was a massive undertaking for its time, costing an unheard of budget of more than $200 million, was shot for more than 300 days and 60 nights, utilizing 36,000 extras, shot with startlingly new techniques that still stump film experts. It features meticulously designed miniature sets, reveals a full-scale flood, explosions, mass riots, and more - all created in UFA's massive studios. More, with stop-action animation vehicles drove or flew in eye-popping forced perspectives. Lang's special effects are so impressive they are still attempted with varying success in today's movies.
"Metropolis" will be shown at 7:15 p.m., preceded by a German buffet from Laurium's Irish Times at 6 p.m. Cost for both is $18 while the movie alone is $5. For the buffet, call ahead for seating at 337-2610.
This film has been made possible by the sponsorship of Swede's Gift Shop & Keweenaw Minerals, Copper Harbor.
The Carnegie Museum will hold its fundraiser, "A Night at the Museum," from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the museum. Tickets are $25 each. Come out and support a worthy cause.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: "Crazy, Stupid Love," B-; "Cowboys & Aliens, C; "Smurfs," F